History of the Bassetlaw League (C R Martin)

The Bassetlaw & District Cricket League was formed at a meeting held in the Lion Hotel, Worksop on 12th August 1903 following an approach from the owner and editor of the Worksop Guardian newspaper, Mr. Frank Sissons, to the President of Worksop Cricket Club, Mr. William Allen. Mr. Sissons was surprised that local clubs had to travel to surrounding areas for a game in the Derbyshire League, the Hallamshire League, the Wales and District League or the Scarcliffe and District League. A silver trophy, to be known as the ‘Worksop Guardian Cup’, valued at £25 was provided, and remains in use for presentation to the League Champions to this day.                                                                                                                                               

The following eight teams entered the League for the 1904 season: Clowne, Creswell Colliery, Gainsborough Britannia, Kiveton Park Colliery, Retford, Shireoaks Miners’ Welfare, Whitwell Colliery and Worksop and the first match to be played was Whitwell v Retford on 30th April. This game ended in a tie, and an appeal by Retford that the scorers had recorded a boundary during the Whitwell innings as five runs instead of four – this appeal was subsequently upheld, and Retford awarded the match. Despite this, Retford ended the season bottom of the League with Worksop becoming the first Champions.

Only five clubs maintained continuous membership throughout the decade between the formation of the League and the outbreak of the First World War [1914 – 18], Gainsborough Britannia, Kiveton Park, Retford, Shireoaks and Worksop, with other clubs coming and going, including Sheffield Collegiate and Sheffield United, neither of whom returned after the war. A Second Division was formed in 1905, but was disbanded due to lack of support in 1909,

In March 1915 it was decided to abandon the League for the duration of the war, and the next meeting was held in December 1918 when matches were revived for the 1919 season with nine clubs competing in First and Second Divisions: Dinnington Main, Gainsborough Britannia, Kiveton Park, Langwith Colliery, Manton Colliery, Retford, Shireoaks, Whitwell Colliery and Worksop.

Over the next 20 years there was a steady increase in the number of clubs in both Divisions, with the Second Division formed from small club First XI’s in addition to the Second XI’s of stronger clubs. Fixtures were made with traditional games, such as Creswell v Whitwell, being retained, but others were arranged in rotation on a quota basis with little consideration of the relative strengths of the teams.

A knockout competition, for the Broomhead Cup, was held in 1926 for ‘A’ teams and some small clubs, and included midweek matches, but after one season it became the Third Division. Following the outbreak of the Second World War [1939 – 45] it was planned that 19 teams would compete in the First Division and 24 in the Second Division; the Third Division was disbanded and not re-formed until 1949.

After the Second World War the number of teams grew so that by 1952 there were 33 teams in the First Division, 33 in the Second Division and 8 in the Third Division. Fixture making was still by quota and Ruston & Hornsby, the Champions, played only two of the other teams who finished in the top ten places. It was finally agreed after many years to divide the First Division into three Sections, A, B and C for 1953 based on the final League table of season 1952 as follows:    

All the above teams had a Second XI in the Second Division or Third Division except those shown with *.

The other clubs in the League in 1953 were Anston, Bothamsall, Dinnington Miner’s Welfare, Genefax, Laxton, Oates Sports, Rufford Colliery, Sherwood Colliery, Thoresby Colliery and Worksop Co-op Employees. In 1955 the Second Division was also divided into Sections A, B and C and the Third Division was discontinued after the1961 season.

A major change in the League came with the introduction of ‘overs’ cricket. Prior to 1968 each match was scheduled to last for 5 hours without restriction on the length of the first innings and many matches ended in tedious draws with the team batting first occupying the crease for well over half the allotted time. Attempts had been made for many years to alter this against much opposition from clubs, and, at first, it was proposed that it be applied only to Division One, Section A but, at a special meeting held on 31 August 1967, it was finally agreed to introduce it on an ‘experimental’ basis throughout the League. It was agreed that winning and losing draws, with transferable overs, should be adopted but few now remember that although Division One matches were a maximum of 92 overs, with a 2.30pm start from the outset, those in Division Two were of 80 overs commencing at 3pm; the latter being amended after one season.

The second half of the twentieth century saw a significant increase in the number of clubs and teams and to accommodate them new Sections were added as follows: 1961 – Division Two, Section D; 1963 – Division Two, Section E; 1964 – Division One, Section D. In 1984 Division Two became a Division for Second Elevens only and Sections E and F were created in Division One.

The peak of the membership was reached in 1997 with 135 teams from 76 clubs as, not only had new clubs been formed in the traditional ‘Bassetlaw’ area, but the League had attracted clubs from surrounding Districts.

This consistent increase in membership was ended by the formation of ECB Premier Leagues in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire and the consequent loss of the Bassetlaw League’s best teams, a move which harmed both the quantity and quality of cricket played. It was also recognized that many of the Second XI’s in Division Two were stronger than teams in Division One and from the 2001 season all teams have been able to find their own level throughout what is currently eight Divisions.

A knockout competition for the Harry Tomlins Trophy, named after the League Secretary from 1937 – 68, was introduced in 1972 with 80 overs matches played on Sundays. For many years it proved very popular and successful, for instance in 1990, 41 clubs took part, but as Sunday League cricket blossomed and some players’ appetite for two games over a weekend faded, the competition ended in 2013. Similarly, a Twenty20 competition for the Mallen Trophy which began in 2006 has struggled for entries in recent seasons.

From 1965 to 2003 the Bassetlaw League XI competed in the President’s Trophy competition organized by the League Cricket Conference; our team won the Trophy in 1971,1976,1978 and 1984 and were losing finalists in 1973 and 1987. 1971 was probably the team’s greatest triumph when the Yorkshire League were beaten in the quarter final, the Northumberland League in the semifinal and the Birmingham League in the Final. We were also successful in winning the Cedric Rhoades Cup, a competition for non-Premier Leagues, in 2009.

For much of the League’s existence one of its strengths has been that a number of the players have been either future, current or past First-Class cricketers. Indeed quite a few played many times for England including Harold Larwood and Bill Voce who were major participants on the ‘Bodyline tour’ of Australia in 1932-33; Mike Hendrick, Geoff Miller and Derek Randall, Test Match colleagues in the late 1970’s and early 80’s; and Bruce French, keeping wicket in the late 80’s.

 There have also been young overseas players in the League who have gone on to make their mark at the highest level, including Chris Cairns with 62 Tests for New Zealand, whilst on Boxing Day 2014, Dean Elgar and Faf Du Plessis scored Test centuries for South Africa and Joe Burns made his debut for Australia.

It is fortunate that, for well over 100 years, dedicated officials have been diligent in keeping records, from that first meeting at the Lion Hotel, Worksop, on 12th August 1903 to the present day. In commemoration of the centenary, the Management Committee meeting scheduled for 12th August 2003 was held at the Lion Hotel and was followed by a reception during which plaques were presented to the four founder clubs still in membership, Kiveton Park Colliery, Retford, Whitwell and Worksop.   To further celebrate the Centenary, on 17th April 2004 a friendly match was played at Whitwell with Retford as the visitors, and on 28th July 2004 a Bassetlaw League XI played an MCC XI at Worksop Cricket Club when many of the League records were available to be viewed in the pavilion.